This is the seventeenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013
The new joke is, “Hey Nick, got a second?” Auburn already has t-shirts with that printed on the back. As the whole football world knows by now, the game appeared to end when an Alabama ball carrier dashed out of bounds and the clock ticked to zero. Nick Saban asked referees to review the play to see if any time was left on the clock. Indeed, the replay clearly showed the Bama runner stepping out with one second on the clock. Alabama lined up for a 57 yard field goal to win the 28-28 ball game. Then Gus Malzahn called a time out.
This gave me a chance to sprint to the other end of the Alabama bench to get behind the kicker. I knew if he hit the kick he would turn back to the Bama sideline with his arms in the air and maybe teammates would swarm out and lift him on their shoulders. So I was ready. The ball is snapped, placed and kicked. I could tell from the body language he had missed the kick. Game over, right? Then I saw the Alabama players running toward the Auburn end and it took a moment for it to dawn on me what was happening. Malzahn used the timeout to set a return man in the end zone in case the kick was missed short.
The kick was short and Chris Davis caught the ball nine yards deep in the end zone and returned it. He had nothing to lose. The Crimson Tide parted and Davis outran the big, heavy linemen to the end zone to win the game with the most unlikely play I have ever seen. As soon as Davis cleared about the Auburn 40 yard line I could see him. There were no Alabama players in my frame and I thought he might score. He kept running and I knew he was going to score. And score he did.
I had a good, clean look at the run back with people on the sideline with hands raised. I sprinted toward the end zone where he was being dog piled by his teammates then I remembered, my job was to cover Alabama. I knew from experience there would be almost no reaction from the Alabama players and I started to run on over to the pile. I managed to reign myself in and get to the Alabama sideline in time to get one nice dejection photo before the players were gone or lost in the swarm of fans stampeding the field.
My colleague, Jeronimo Nisa, was covering the Auburn side and I had to stick to my assignment. The play actually came directly toward him and he had the player scoring literally right in front of him. My next mission was to get off the field before I was run down by the stampeding Auburn fans, but that is a post for another day. Now, as a peak action photo, this shot isn’t much. The player is all alone and the angle is not optimal; however, it is a historic moment in this rivalry and having any kind of frame of the biggest moments in the Iron Bowl rivalry automatically elevates this picture to an above average place and gives it a spot in this year’s Twenty Moments.
This is the sixteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
I literally hate shopping assignments. Nothing, including ribbon cuttings, makes me grumble like getting a shopping assignment and we have a lot of shopping assignments. Okay, maybe gas price assignments make me more grumpy but it is a toss up! Arrrggghhh! I feel a pirate moment coming on! Avast ye shoppers, I will hang ye from the yard-arm…. ye will walk the…. Okay, I controlled myself but dang it, I hate shopping photos. I guess it is entirely superfluous to tell you I don’t like to go shopping myself.
Here is the run down. We do shopping photos about four major times per year, Thanksgiving/Black Friday, Back To School, Day after Christmas and I forget the other one. Brain lock for sure! I will do nearly anything to avoid shopping photos. Why, you ask, do I so hate shopping photos? Thank you for asking.
Aside from not enjoying shopping myself, photographing in retail stores has become increasingly difficult. Many of the chain stores don’t want you anywhere near their places of business and if you are there they want to send an escort around with you to make sure you behave yourself. That is a big one. Shopping photos tend to be highly repetitive images of people looking at stuff which is why I don’t like shooting some festivals either. There are only so many ways to get shots of people looking at stuff! During the Christmas season, no one really wants you to photograph them buying gifts because the people they are buying for may see the pictures. This year I was turned down by five or six out of eight people I approached in Kmart. I mean, really, how aggravating can this get?
So there is a nutshell of my dislike for shopping photos. But, once in a while, I do find a gem, a diamond amid the lumps of coal. This photo is a diamond. I was in the Target in Decatur photographing for the annual tax free shopping weekend that is designed to help people buy their back to school supplies and clothing. It is a very popular shopping holiday. Target is one of the stores I actually like to work with. They have been accommodating every time I have asked. Thank you Target.
I came across these moms with their kids shopping for new shoes. The little girl was quite the little fire ball so I thought I would hang around and see what happened. Sure enough, a little patience paid off. Her mom laced on the shoes and she did this little leap and acted like a lioness! Nice! Nailed it!!! All through this series, by the way, that nailed it thing is a little humor not abject arrogance!, I have preached the value of pushing beyond expectations. You know the expected photo from this assignment. I have about a dozen of those images. Hanging out a few extra moments with these two ladies and their kids paid off with a wonderful photo that ran big on page 1 the next day. Gotta love it even when it is a shopping photo.
This is the sixteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
No one tells you before a game that you are about to photograph that it will go down as one of the all-time greats in college football history. You feel it coming as the game builds to its climax but even after it is over you are working too hard to take much notice. Only after you transmit that last image does it sink in and you think what a privilege it is to have the job you have. This game may also be the game with the most unlikely ending since the game between the Amorites and the Philistines was ended prematurely by a rain storm back in Noah’s day. (To be honest, I made that part up. I am not sure those two teams existed until after Noah!) My job in this Iron Bowl was to cover Alabama. I told people before the game Alabama should beat Auburn by two touchdowns. In all actuality, they probably should have and probably would have nine times out of ten. But not on this night.
The negative side of the game for Alabama was the kicking. Poor Cade Foster had an awful night. He missed three times. After the third miss, AJ McCarron who was holding for him, walked past him and patted him on the head. Cade, as you can see, has his head down in a classic pose of dejection. I am pretty sure Coach Saban saw that body language and, in a critical situation later in the fourth quarter, opted to go for it on fourth down, a decision that surely cost Alabama the game. A field goal in that situation would have iced the game for Bama but Coach Saban had this image in his mind. Auburn held on fourth down and managed a game tying touchdown leaving less than one minute on the clock.
You all know what happened after that. Yet another malfunction in the kicking game cost Alabama a near certain shot at another National Championship. This photo, from the Alabama perspective, becomes the photo of the game. Will this enter my a portfolio? Nope. But it has the storytelling quality you want in your sports images. When you get that frame that tells the story you know you have done your job.
Now, the story doesn’t stop here. Some Alabama fans actually texted death threats to Cade Foster after the game. Insanity! The young man missed some kicks. It is a game. People, grow up! And how in the world can anyone heap this on Cade’s shoulders. People don’t remember that Alabama receivers dropped two passes in the end zone that would have been touchdowns. Had either ball been caught the game never comes down to a field goal and, honestly, would not have even been a close game. I also have a nice frame of one of those would be touchdowns being dropped. For all of that, Auburn won the game on the most unlikely play ever to end a game.
Alabama attempted another field goal with one second on the clock. It was a very long attempt and the kick fell one yard short. Chris Davis returned said kick 109 yards for the game winning touchdown with no time left. Want to guess what tomorrow’s post will show?
This is the fifteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
My normal work shift is a businesslike 9-5. In the world of photojournalism the word “normal” should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Normal means when all of us are working and all of us are seldom working at the same time. The result of our wacky schedule is I work the later shifts from time to time in an unpredictable kind of normal way. Drives my wife crazy! I don’t mind too much because it provides some diversity to my work days.
This photo is the result of one of those abnormal-normalities. A new steel factory is going up in Limestone County on the north side of the Tennessee River. The company was moving a very large press component to the factory via the Tennessee River then by special transport to their new factory. The special transport is an 18 axle trailer that is driven remotely by a man walking beside it with a control unit. The entire operation is quite impressive. The move was made at night to avoid as much of the workday traffic as possible.
Night photography can be fun and challenging and infuriating all at the same time. On this night, the weather decided to spice up the night with rain. In fact, a light rain began falling right about the time the company began the move. There was no light to speak of beyond the sodium vapor street lights so this was going to be a challenge. The moving company had a very large, very intense spotlight on top of the hauler. This complicated things because now the fall off from the hot light to the complete darkness was going to be extraordinary.
If you work for a newspaper you already know the photo I am showing you is not the photo we ran in our lead page position. This is far and away my best photo but you can’t see the big hauler with the press piece on it. Sometimes you have to cave to the obvious and I certainly provided a number of nice images of the hauler, the traffic and the people. Still, I worked very hard to get this shot. I had to feel around and see how close the moving company was going to let me get. When it was apparent they didn’t care as long as I didn’t get run over I began working this shot. The man in the photo was the eyes for the front end of the hauler. He was radioing directions for turns back to the driver.
I shot for about five minutes on this one image. I am sure the guy must have thought I was nuts. To make the shot work, his body had to obscure the entire light source and my exposure has to be spot on so there is some wrap around light on the man to make sure he is not a silhouette. A night time silhouette is, shall we say, dark. The back lit rain drops add a nice touch to the image.
This is an example of what I spoke of in an earlier post about shooting to meet my own expectations. I mean, how easy would it have been for me to shoot that overall shot of the hauler, the traffic and the guys and walk away, photo in the bag? I have been doing this long enough I seldom even think about it. I always push beyond the expectations of the assignment unless I am sick or something like that. Pushing keeps me interested and pushing helps me make pictures, unexpected pictures, from everyday assignments. This isn’t going to win any prizes for me but it hangs in that pushing the envelope hall of photographs I have in my mind!
This is the fifteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports edition for 2013.
That scream you hear off in the distance is not Wesley in the Pit of Despair! It is my soul crying out in agony as I miss the shot of year! For those of you who don’t understand my movie reference, go immediately and rent The Princess Bride. You will thank me for the rest of your life. For those cultured among you, no further explanation is necessary.
Obviously this Twenty Moments moment is not a highlight of my year; rather, it is an object lesson. You can see this is one of the key moments of Auburn’s season. This is the Miraculous Deflection turned Miraculous Reception turned saving moment of the season. Of course, there was another play, even more unlikely that lifted Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Like I said yesterday, I wouldn’t bet a single penny on Florida State in the BCS Championship. Wow!
Here is what happened. Like everyone else in the stadium, I expected the last play to be a failed pass attempt that would seal the victory for Georgia. I was actually focused on the Auburn fans in the student section. I turned around just before the play to shoot, you know, just in case. When the Georgia players leaped into the air, I have them tack sharp, perfectly focused. I could see Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis lift his eyes and I knew the ball had been tipped up. I also knew my camera was refusing to focus on Louis. I banged on the AF button with my thumb, begging with my mind for the camera to focus. It refused. The ball floated into his hands with him coming right at me. I nailed the shot, only I didn’t.
I didn’t even bother to review the image. I knew it was out of focus. My only alternative was to turn back to the fans with my second body and a wide lens and shoot their reaction. They were, of course, going ape. It is a nice series of frames but it is not the catch, the defining moment. I missed it. I am still chagrined. Of all the shots to miss and I miss this one. There are no adjectives that my mom and dad can read without washing my mouth out with soap that would accurately express me feelings right now so use your imagination.
Here is the object lesson. I got greedy. Three games earlier, I think it was during the Alabama vs Tennessee game, I decided I wanted full speed on my motor drive. I moved the selector from ten frames per second to eleven frames per second. It seemed to work ok so I left it there and forgot about it. Then the problems started. I began noticing the camera was not following focus well, not even when the subject movement was minimal. It took me three weeks to figure it out which was about a week too long. I had changed every AF setting I could to eliminate the focus lock and focus tracking. I had the camera doing nothing but continuous autofocus. Still, it wasn’t working right. I finally remembered changing the motor selector. I switched it back and tried a high school basketball game. Nailed every shot.
I happened to speak with Bob Rosato about the problem and he told me the D4 does not play well at 11 fps. That was the tipping point for sure. Bob is the head of USA Today Sports and a former Sports Illustrated photographer. I spoke to him about it just before the Iron Bowl game and it confirmed my diagnosis. That is one of the really wonderful things about shooting with the big dogs. The big dogs turn out, as often as not, to be really nice people who are willing to share knowledge with you. That alone is worth showing up to shoot college football.
This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is from Kansas and he has done much work in his native state. Granted, he has traveled the world on assignment for Geographic but I think his most heart felt photographs have been produced in his home state. There is this photo that remains one of my favorites of his showing a couple of farmers harvesting wheat with a gigantic summer thunderstorm approaching.
This year was a big wheat year across the part of north Alabama I cover. Farmers use a rotation system with cotton, soybeans, corn and wheat. The wheat is a winter crop that is harvested in early summer giving the farmers time to plant soybeans behind it. This wheat field is one of my favorite spots in Limestone County. It is in a place called Peets Corner at the intersection of Mooresville Road and Huntsville-Browns Ferry Rd. I have been in a few real messes in that spot and I guess that accounts for my affection. Honestly, I don’t know for sure I am spelling it right so pardon to my Limestone County friends if I have it wrong.
I was in that field back in the D1 days when a small funnel cloud came twisting out of the sky right on top of me. By right on top of me I mean literally, right on top of me. It didn’t touch down and it was small so I would probably have survived even if it did. Then, on April 27, 2011, I got caught beside this same field on the open road as an airborne tornado passed almost directly over my head. This one was no joke. I was terrified, couldn’t see a thing and the hail was falling like rain, car rocking back and forth in the wind. Anyway, that is why I go there when it is stormy.
This day was not going to be a horrible day but a storm was coming and I passed Peets Corner and saw the harvesters coming in from the fields trying to beat the weather. I parked beside the big old oak tree and grabbed my gear. As I headed into the field, the drivers parked the harvesters. Don’t think I wasn’t thinking about Jim Richardson’s amazing photo. Then, out of the harvester, hops this little boy in the red shorts. Sometimes you see something and your heart skips a beat in a good way.
The approaching storm was not going to give me a Jim Richardson moment but the little boy in the red shorts gave me a beautiful moment. I guess he had been riding with his dad who got out behind him. This is another of those images that I would never claim is great. It won’t be in my portfolio but it strikes one of those rich memory chords for me attaching itself in some small way to that photo by Richardson. I will keep on passing by Peets Corner and I will keep my eyes on the sky. I also have scoped out a spot where I can take cover should another big tornado come crashing through there!
This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports editon for 2013.
When you are having a “miraculous” season, walking on air can’t be that big of a deal. I don’t know about miracles but Auburn surely has been on someone’s good side this year. They had no conference wins last year which cost the coach his job. Auburn hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and suddenly the team exploded. Add new quarterback Nick Marshall to the mix and there was definitely something magical, if not miraculous, about the 2013 season. I mostly covered the University of Alabama this year but I arrived just in time to photograph Auburn’s two most unlikely wins.
Auburn led Georgia comfortably going into the fourth quarter before blowing the lead and needing a miracle. On the last play, on a fourth down and long, quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back and threw a Hail Mary pass. Two Georgia defenders were waiting in perfect position. They jumped into the air and somehow, instead of simply batting it down and winning the game, they tipped the ball into the air and into the hands of Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis who waltzed into the end zone.
In the Iron Bowl game for the ages, Auburn trailed Alabama late and somehow the Alabama defense, one of the best in the nation all season, couldn’t put the brakes on Auburn. Nick Marshall rolled left and threw the single ugliest pass I have ever seen. Somehow that lame duck, and that is being too polite, fell into the arms of a wide receiver and there was not a single Alabama defender anywhere near him. He scored to tie the game. Then, as everyone knows, Alabama tried a field goal with one second left after a review of what appeared to be the final play put one second back on the clock. (Got a second Nick?) Chris Davis caught the errant field goal and somehow returned it 109 yards for a touchdown to win the game in what is the most unlikely ending to a football game I have ever seen.
You now know enough to know not to be against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game! The photo of Nick Marshall floating over a quartet of fallen Gerogia players seems to me to sum up the feel of the season pretty well. I won’t claim this is a great sports action photo; however, it is one of those photos that has an “it” quality. I can’t put my finger on it but there is some kind of metaphor for Auburn’s season in this image.
In the great scheme of sports photography I would always lean more towards the best metaphorical moment over the best peak action moment. Yes, action photos fill the photo galleries and lead sports pages but when you are telling the story of a game or a season, images like this one will live on while those standard action images will be forgotten.
This is the thirteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
I like babies. I have a bunch of them myself. Of course, mine are not babies now. Some have grown up and moved away and the others are in the process of growing up. When my friend David Higginbotham called me early in the year he asked would I be interested in photographing the birth of he and Anna’s first child. I was delighted to say yes!
David used to work at The Decatur Daily. He left us about ten years ago. In fact, he and Anna met on a photo assignment. (He was extremely young when we hired him!) Anna was a Jr. Miss contestant and David had the assignment to photograph her for the paper. I guess he made more than a picture that day. They dated all through her college years and finally, after a couple of hiccups, made it to the altar. You know, until now, I had forgotten this, but I actually helped David set up their engagement and then shot the photos of him popping the question. I think we conned Anna into coming to the newspaper warehouse to help us set up and test a photo shoot. You will want to remember that for later in the post.
Continuing the saga, I shot David’s wedding along with another colleague, Emily Furtch. I guess you could say we have shared a bunch of important moments before this which explains, at least in part, why they would invite me to photograph the birth of their child. Now, back to this photo. The very surprised lady you see is Anna’s mother, Vicki Linley. She had no idea Anna was pregnant. David wanted to surprise her with the news so he printed and framed a photo of the ultrasound and stuck it in a plain, brown box. As we arrived at her house, we put the box on the step and knocked on the door.
Remember how I told you he conned Anna into coming to the warehouse by saying we were setting up a photo and needed a model? Yeah, well, it worked once, why not see if it would work again. They told Vicki that I would be coming by to test a camera. She knows me too and didn’t think anything about it because she knows I am a photographer and, of course, David still shoots as well. The only problem was getting her outside on a cold day. We made up some reason to get her out so she would find the box.
At first she was confused why anyone would leave a box on her step. She opened it to see what was going on. There was a moment of total confusion on her face then the revelation dawned. It was such a fun moment and one of the best early moments in this story. The story published today at decaturdaily.com. You can go there and see the entire piece complete with stories, photo galleries and videos. This is the very first story in a series I am doing called The Seasons of Life, something you will see more about over the months, and probably years, to come. Go check it out and enjoy a birth story at Christmas. Hey, that is a nice tie in, don’t you think.
This is the thirteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
There are only two teams in all of college football I can’t stand. One is Notre Dame and the other is Tennessee. At least Notre Dame has some cool looking uniforms. There is nothing, even in the uniform, to redeem Tennessee. For a person from the state of Alabama, aside from beating your instate rival, beating Tennessee is the sweetest. Auburn fans might say beating Georgia is a bit more to their taste but to a Bama fan there is nothing better than whooping on Tennessee.
I suppose it is unfair to take much joy in thumping the Volunteers since they are down and had to endure a tenure under Lane Kiffin. Never mind, I still don’t like them. I felt sorry for them once but it felt like I was feeling sorry for the devil. I did pull for them one time and one time only. When they played for the National Championship back when Tee Martin was the quarterback I did pull for them but that was an SEC thing. I guess the only redemptive thing about the Vols is that my favorite NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning, once played there. Of course, when he was at Tennessee I didn’t much care for him.
There now, got that off my chest. I do always enjoy shooting rivalry games so I love to shoot the Alabama vs Tennesse game even when it is one-sided. This year was one-sided. Alabama was far better than UT and showed it early and often. The game had little to no drama and then something special happened. AJ McCarron hit Kevin Norwood on a short crossing pattern and Norwood broke into the open field running toward the Tennessee sideline.
As he approached the sideline two UT defenders closed in. Norwood did this little twitch with his upper body and I thought to myself, “he is about to jump.” Sure enough, he leaped into the air and right over the shoulders of the two defenders. My only hope was he stayed in the frame and the camera maintained focus. He managed a few more yards after coming down before being tackled. I quickly chimped my image and saw it was in focus and he stayed in the frame. I had a big smile on my face.
By the way, chimping is a highly sophisticated term meaning a photographer looks at images on his camera’s screen immediately after shooting the picture. When you see this happen it looks for all the world like a chimpanzee looking at something in his hands. When several of us are all doing it at the same time it can be a very funny sight. I don’t believe in evolution but if chimps had cameras I am pretty sure it would lead to their extinction! I guess photographers had better be careful while doing stuff like chimping and walking or chimping and driving. It might lead to our extinction as well!
I shot this image with the Nikon D4 and a 300mm f2.8 with a 1.4 teleconverter. I like that combo. It is long, light and still fast enough to use at night games.
This is the twelfth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
If you ever get a chance to ride in a hot air balloon, take it! What an amazing feeling. If a man could walk on a cloud I am guessing it would feel like riding in a hot air balloon. We have the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival in Decatur every year. It is a visual feast from the ground. From the air it is beyond description.
When you first take off from field in Point Mallard Park the ground is covered in balloonists inflating and lifting off. It is as colorful a panorama as you are likely to see. Then you have balloons all around you in the air. Some fly higher than you are and some lower, some much lower. On flights that go over the Tennessee River some pilots will dip their baskets in the river. I beg the pilot I am with not to do that. Digital cameras don’t mix well with the Tennessee River.
In the evening the pilots all gather back on the launch field and do a balloon glow, one of the more beautiful things I have seen. Right at dusk, all the pilots inflate and use their burners to illuminate the balloon. Truly a beautiful sight. Yet here I am telling you about all these photos and not showing them to you. I am teasing you but I hope the photo I am showing you hits a sweet spot for you. I know it does for me.
The wind direction this year took us away from the river and over the main part of Decatur. As we flew over Walter Jackson Elementary School, my pilot was flying over another balloonists and we were both drifting toward the baseball diamond behind the school. I saw this picture happening and I was very excited. The shapes and the colors were just right and I shot a series as we flew over. The only thing that could have made it better would be a game going on but balloonists fly early, way before baseball games are played.
I shot this on the D4 with a 17-35 lens at 35mm. It was an immediate favorite and it is still a favorite. I love the color and texture and the light and I always love baseball fields, just seldom get to see one from above. This whole photo assignment was visually rich. I could show you thirty beautiful images. Such a fun and wonderful assignment. The only thing I don’t care for about flying in a hot air balloon is the landing. We dropped down in a residential neighborhood. It was a new neighborhood with very large houses. The pilot skimmed so close to the roof I could have reached out and touched the shingles! I kept thinking we were going to scrape shingles off.
Good for us he actually knew what he was about and brought us down like a feather in the middle of the driveway. Nice ride, nice pictures and a thoroughly enjoyable morning.